How proper grooming can save you a trip to the vet hospital

Bathing and brushing your pets can help them look great. But did you know grooming also plays a big role in your pet’s overall health? In fact, improper grooming can actually harm your pet.

It may surprise you to learn that the emergency and specialty veterinarians at BluePearl Veterinary Partners treat many pets with grooming-related injuries and infections every day. BluePearl Emergency veterinarian Dr. Sonja Olson explains the best practices for pet grooming to prevent a trip to the veterinary hospital:

Keep your pet’s nails trim – One of the most common grooming-related injuries is nail breakage, which is more frequent in dogs, especially if the nails are too long. Breaking a nail can be excruciating for dogs, just as it is for humans. If your pet breaks a nail and you notice persistent bleeding or limping, contact your veterinarian or an emergency vet hospital as soon as possible. A veterinarian will trim and possibly bandage the nail and may also provide medications to help relieve your pet’s pain.

In cats, one of the most common nail injuries the curling of claws into the pads of their paws due to overgrowth. Cats have sharp claws, and without regular maintenance, they can twist into the skin and cause immense pain and the inability to walk comfortably. This situation must be addressed by a veterinarian.

Most nail-related emergencies and injuries can be prevented with proper trimming. If you notice your pet’s nails clicking loudly on the floor or if you see the nails getting long, it’s time for a trim. Talk to your primary veterinarian about how to trim your pet’s nails at home, or if you’d prefer, take your pet to a trusted groomer or veterinarian to provide this service for you. With nail trimming, it’s especially important to be mindful of the dewclaw, or the claw “thumb” that is slightly higher up on your pet’s paw, as these nails are even more prone to breakage and overgrowth.

Don’t clip the matted fur – Matted fur can cause your pet pain, and if you’re not careful, the process of clipping these mats can make it even worse. Never use scissors to clip a mat, because it’s difficult to determine how close the mat is to the skin. You could easily cut your pet’s skin, which could mean a trip to the veterinary ER. If your pet’s fur is matted, it’s best to have a veterinarian or professional groomer gently shave the mats off for you.

Brushing your pet can help avoid matted fur. Cats need a little less maintenance because they prevent mats by using their rough, barbed tongues to separate the fur. Dogs do not have this ability, so it’s important to provide regular brushing, especially for pups with long fur or an undercoat. If you notice your pet forming unusual mats in certain areas, contact your veterinarian, as this can be an indicator of certain conditions such as obesity and arthritis.

Always prevent fleas and ticks – Fleas and ticks are very common throughout the United States, and they can cause many issues such as flea allergies, and tick-borne diseases like tick paralysis. Regular brushing and grooming means you are more likely to find these pests. There are many flea and tick prevention products available, including collars, monthly oral pills and topical medications. Talk to your primary veterinarian about what product(s) may be best for you and your pet. It’s important to note to use caution and consult with your veterinarian before using flea and tick shampoos. Some ingredients in certain dog flea shampoos can cause seizures in cats.

Know how and when to bathe your pet – Giving your pet a bath seems simple, but there are a few things to remember to avoid health issues. First, keep in mind that for most dogs, bath time should typically occur no less than six to eight weeks apart (unless your dog rolls in mud, then you can make an exception), and only as needed for cats. Your pet’s skin has a unique pH balance, so over-washing can dry out skin or cause irritation.

When you do bathe your pet, use a shampoo specifically designed for your pet’s species, and if possible, coat-type or breed. Avoiding using water that is too cold or too hot. Be sure to avoid getting shampoo in your pet’s eyes, as this can cause pain, irritation and even corneal ulcers. If you are uncomfortable with bathing your pet on your own, take him to a professional groomer or veterinarian.

Be aware that foul-smelling odor can indicate skin disease in dogs. While dogs naturally have a gentle musk, they should never emit a strong, stinky smell. If you bathe your dog once ever eight weeks or so, and he still develops a foul smell, talk to your primary veterinarian about possible skin complications.

Remember to clean the ears – Check your dog’s ears on a regular basis for a build-up of dirt. Cleaning dirty ears is easy, but it’s important to do it correctly to avoid damage. Only use products designed for veterinary ear cleaning. Products like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and even excess water can be highly damaging. Use a cotton ball ripped in half, as opposed to Q-tips which can cause damage your pet’s ears. Keep in mind some dog breeds, such as cocker spaniels and basset hounds, are prone to infection and may require more frequent cleanings. Dogs who swim frequently may also need extra attention to their ears.

Wipe away eye gunk – Many dogs have discharge that forms around their eyes. If this discharge is not wiped clean, it can accumulate, leading to a painful clump of wet fur that likely hosts a bacterial infection such as conjunctivitis. The best way to prevent any complications is to make a habit of gently wiping your dog’s eyes daily. Whether you want to prevent clumping or attempt to remove a clump, leave grooming of the eye area to a veterinarian. Never attempt to clip the fur around the eyes on your own.

Begin grooming at a young age – It’s important to get your pets used to the grooming process as early as possible. Begin by touching and lifting their paws and being especially gentle during their first bath. If you adopt a rescue animal and you’re not sure about past grooming experiences, make sure to begin slowly adding grooming maintenance into his life and learn what he is comfortable with.

“It’s all about preventative wellness for your pet,” says Dr. Olson, “You can decrease the likelihood of a grooming-related emergency for your pet by being proactive and staying informed.”

If your pet experiences a medical emergency, contact your closest veterinary hospital.